Now & Then:
“FIRE, FIRE HURRY!
HERE COME THE FIREMEN!”
By: Loretta (Stevens) Bailey
Now: This is a comparison of Cañon City’s fire stations present and past. I have researched archives and files at Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center. Finding a treasure of information. News articles, photographs, City Directories and old fire logs in large leathered-covered books. Containing detailed reports of Date, Time, Contact, Address, Business/Residents, Causes, Chemicals or Water Used, Hose Laid, Feet of Ladder Used, Time Out & Damage Cost.
I recently went to Fire Station #1 located at 1475 15th St. for a taped-interview with Battalion Chief, Joel Foster. Joining us were Dave Marshall, Battalion Chief and Scott Johnson, Assistant Chief.
Joel gave us a very informative and detailed tour of the entire station. With permission, we took many colored photographs of the station. Selected ones will be included and the rest will be archived at Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center in Cañon City.
Then: Among the early Ordinances prepared by Thomas Macon, Town Attorney none were more outstanding than the Fire Department Ordinance which was prepared in February of 1873.
While several of the new towns had organized volunteer fire departments and purchased hose carts for use by the volunteer firemen, very few provided the city with regulations to prevent destruction by major fires.
Many early towns being built largely of lumber and logs and the climate being particularly dry, it is almost impossible to halt a fire once it got started. Canon City was fortunate enough to have an attorney, Thomas Macon, who drew up an ordinance complete with penalties which tend to prevent these costly fires from getting started. The ordinance is very complete with a few exceptions could be used as a model today.
Canon City Times
January 23, 1902
NEW FIRE APPARATUS
The handsome new chemical engine for the Canon City Fire Department and been received and ready for use. The apparatus attracted a good deal of attention yesterday. It is from Seagrave Co. of Columbus, Ohio, and a very fine piece of work. It cost something like $1,500.
The new fire alarm system was put in several weeks ago and has been found to work very satisfactorily. With the addition of this new apparatus a paid fire department and a new engine house thoroughly equipped, Canon City may well feel satisfied with its facilities for protection again fire.
TEST of SPEED
An edited article from the Canon Weekly
It has been just six months since Canon City has had her paid department men tested and in that time the men and horses have learned to be quick in their movements, hitch-ups and get out of the house in a surprising short space of time.
W.H. Peabody kept the time with a stop watch and some excellent records were made. When the alarm was sounded, all the men jumped out bed, ran to their places. Two of the men snapped the harness while the driver was getting in his seat, the animals were started immediately.
To get hitched up and get out of the house required 15.5 seconds. To get the hose off and coupled 32.5 seconds were consumed and to get water to shoot from the nozzle 37.5 seconds. The run was made a little less than a half a block.
HOW TO TURN ON A FIRE ALARM
Then: From the 1903 Canon City Directory Locations of Alarm Boxes
Break glass in small frame in front door to get key; open box; pull down the hook inside once and let go. Remain at the box until the fire department arrives.
No. 3. C.C. & C.C. Shops No. 81. Seventh and College Ave
No. 15. Fifteenth and Main No. 82. Nineth and Walnut Ave.
No. 21. Fourth and Main No. 83. Tenth and Harrison Ave.
No. 41 Second and Macon Ave. No. 123. Eleventh and Main
No. 71 Seventh and Main No. 412 C.S.P. (Colorado State Pen)
A cast iron fire hydrant embossed with “N.O. Nelson Mfg. Company St. Louis, MO. Pat. Jan. 4,1881 on the side. The top of the hydrant is missing. Near the top are two threaded outlets for hose attachments. The whole hydrant is hour-glass shaped.
In 2015 two volunteers from RGRM&HC Mazy Myers and Ron Taylor discovered this fire hydrant on Grape Street. Cañon City Water Department was notified and they removed the hydrant and donated it to RGRM&HC.
WORST FIRE IN HISTORY
Durango Herald Democrat newspaper
Only ashes remain where a lumber plant, a hotel and four family residences formerly stood in Canon City after the city’s worst fire in history.
Total damage of the fire which was discovered about 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon is estimated at 150-thousand dollars. Cause of the blaze has not yet been determined.
The fire started in a shed of the Gibson Lumber Company, which it was reduced to ruins. The blaze spread to a forty room Colorado Hotel, other residences were damaged, and a 100-thousand-gallon water tank of the Denver & Rio Western Railroad was destroyed.
Loss of the railroad’s water tank makes it necessary for all engines of the D. and R. G. W. R.R. to go to Parkdale, 12 miles west of Canon city at the entrance to the Royal Gorge, to be serviced for water.
Water pumped from an irrigation ditch prevented Canon City’s worst fire history from being more serious.
Canon City and Florence’s firemen was using Canon City’s entire water supply when Pueblo firemen arrived on the scene. They swung a pumper into position on the bank of the Mill Creek irrigation ditch, and the firefighter’s credit this with bringing the blaze under control.
The Following Day August 1, 1943
Copy of a Completed Fire Log
*Chemicals % Used
213 S. 8th St.
Gibson Lumber Yard
Wet down hot-spots from 7/31/43
1 hr. 55 min.
631 River St.
Short in motor wire Refrigerator
Chemical 3 qt. of tetra-chloride
George A. Blazebrook
1934 Ford Sedan Short in wiring
Battery Terminal disc. .7
15th & River
Canon Gas Co. Gas Plant
No Fire 1.8
12th & Adams
Rip-Rap River Bank Brush & Trash
Water from Pump 1.9
3 hrs. 14 min.
312 S. 9th
Ireland’s Grocery Store
Fly Spray in the air
No Fire 1.8
Mrs. Gibson 1938 Chevy
515 S. 9th
Wheel Wright Vermicular-lite Plant
Water & Chemicals 1.7 2 Soda & Acid
1 Hr. 7min
Frank Kendell Frame house
Mattress Careless Smoker
Water in buckets
Fire Fighters Nowadays
Now: Transcribed interviews with Battalion Chief Joel Foster, Battalion Chief Dave Marshall and Assistant Chief Scott Johnson, and Loretta Bailey and Brandon Mares from the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center. Loretta and Brandon asked the questions and the firefighters responded.
Loretta: I noticed in the 1903 fire logs that they had problems with false alarms being set off by pranks, mostly kids.
Responses: We still have problems with false alarms today. About fifteen times a year. Nursing Homes and apartment complexes that have kids living there are where most of them come from.
Over the years there’s has been some preventive measures put in place and that has cut down on the number of false alarms.
Brandon: What kind of records or fire logs do you guys keep today?
Response: It is a totally different animal than those old fire logs. With using the computer today, it is much different.
Brandon: Do you keep track of things like how much hose is used and amount of water used?
Response: Amount of water is not measured or the amount of hose laid down. Pumps on the trucks today pump 2,000 gallons a minute. So, tracking the amount of water used on a fire would be very difficult to try.
Brandon: What do you think was the purpose of measuring the amount of hose laid down?
Response: Possibly was to know how much hose was used so it could be checked to see if there was any damage to it.
Brandon: Is there any way we could have a copy of one of your fire reports for our archives?
Response: We would have check in to that. Our report for just one fire is seven pages long and not on paper. These old fire logs are one page for an entire month and that is it.
We used to have some leather bound books that had written fire reports and I am not sure where they went.
Loretta: Those books are the ones I researched and they are at the history center.
Response: Yes, they are at the history center.
Brandon: Where do your records you are keeping now go? And how long do you keep them?
Response: We have to keep the records for thirty years. Unfortunately, it is not for historical value it is for liability protection.
Brandon: What would you guys consider the largest fire in recent time?
Responses: Probably the Royal Gorge fire in size and the high cost from all the destruction it caused. It could have been far worse if it had kept on spreading. Another fire was the Belvedere Restaurant on Elm Street had heavy amount of damage. As far as historical loss that would be the DeWeese Lodge fire. It started from a heat tape and freshly painted surfaces with lacquer. The lodge and all the collections that Dall DeWeese had accumulated were a total lost.
Interestingly, the same spot as the Gibson Lumber Yard fire in 1943. The Thomas and Kirton Lumber Yard fire in the 1980’s. In about 2010 Short Lumber Company in the same spot had a fire.
Loretta: A question I have is about fire coverage of the state and federal prisons?
Responses: Florence covers the feds. And we cover the state prisons. Actually, we were one of the first communities in the nation that had fire boxes. Yes, I have read that too. I think they started having boxes after the great Chicago Fire.
Loretta: Earlier we were talking about the fire boxes located in different places in Canon City. There is a red box located in the alley behind St. Cloud Hotel.
Response: I have never noticed that and I have been up and down that alley hundreds of times. I’m going to have to check that out when I get a chance.
Loretta: Back to the Gibson fire in 1943 the estimated cost $150,000 and that would have been a large amount of money back then.
Response: It would be interesting to make a comparison of what that cost would be today.
[$150,000 in 1943 is roughly $2,300,000 in 2021 dollars]
Loretta: There was a 100-thousand-gallon water tank owned by the railroad was completely destroyed. It was close to the lumber yard. And it crippled the railroad. It must have been like a flash-flood.
Brandon: Do you have volunteers?
Response: Yes, since 1882. They used to use sirens to alert volunteers. I believe they had numbers so the volunteers knew what part of town to drive to. One long siren, then two long sirens and three long sirens. Prison had their own sirens and so did the Power Company.
Loretta: Did any of you work at the fire station on 330 Royal Gorge Blvd.?
Response: Yes, but not too long before this station number one was built. Then station number two was built and now station three is going to be built.
Loretta: Is it going to be soon?
Response: Yes, they should be breaking ground in couple of months. It will be between E-Free Church and Big O Tire Shop, there on East Main Street.
Brandon: Are you guys excited?
Responses: Yes! (Laughter followed). It has been a long time coming. Having that idea of three stations has been floating since about 1980.
Loretta: In your own personal experiences what do you find the most stressful with being a fireman?
Responses: (Some hesitation they seemed to be giving serious thought to the question). I think as we’ve gotten older, we have kind of got used to it. So, it takes quite a bit to stress us out. One of the things is when we think we should be able to handle the job and we cannot. Trying to come up with a plan of attack. Sometimes it’s out of our hands. Things involving children is really hard to take and is very stressful.
We have to be away from our families for twenty-four hours at a time and we can’t just pick up and leave here. When my wife calls with a problem, it is hard to say deal with it the best you can. We miss a lot of family time like holidays, our kids school activities and their birthdays.
Even our kids have adjusted and got used to our work schedules. We find ways to make it work with the family. Joel’s son and my son are grown-up and they both started working here a few years ago. They saw the life style and they gravitated to this kind of job.
Every job has stress. This job does have some benefits with the schedule. But things that use to stress me, don’t any more. Schedule is good and bad but it is one thing that’s great about it; you get four days off each week. Not many jobs have that benefit.
The thing that’s not good about the job is we are called and expected to do things that are impossible for us to do. Today’s calls a lot of the time is way out of what we can do. They call 911 when it is not an emergency. Or calls when there has been a murder to a barking dog. We have become the catch all. Things well out of our control like mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence.
Loretta: What about the homeless encampments are they dangerous?
Responses: At times yes. Police usually get calls for encampments. One thing that firemen and police officers will joke with each other. You always hear kids say they want to be a fireman. Everybody loves the firemen. Most of the time they are happy to see us. Nobody loves the policemen. With most of police calls, half of the people don’t want you there. (Laughter). Somebody is going to jail.
I think as the world and society are changing, the people are looking at us in a different light. I remember when I was a new hire, saying that if fireman have to wear a bullet proof vest to work, I was going to retire. Well, this last time I wrote a budget, bullet proof vests were added. You would have never thought that, unless it was a riot, you wouldn’t think of ever of wearing a vest. They didn’t attack us. They didn’t set booby traps. They didn’t get violent.
Today there are people setting fires in their houses, then sit back and wait for the fire truck then shoot at it. It just causes you to think back in your head, this call doesn’t sound right. I had a friend in the Coast Guard that would say the rule is “you have to go out but you don’t have to come back”. That is kind of a bad thing to think about.
We take more precautions and safe guards. The training is good in that way. But now we have to train for the human elements and society changes. I think our training is a little bit behind with that part of the job. We have to train for different kinds of fires.
When we get a call, it is different now. We used to put on our gear and get into the fire truck. We were prepared and trained to fight the fire, help the people and make sure that the fire was completely extinguished.
The big change is the human element. We have to back out and assess our approach. It is not a fire going on. It has become dangerous in other ways. When you have to crawl under someone’s house you just don’t know. You just don’t know! That’s added stress. That’s the way it has changed.
The fires are different, they burn faster and hotter and material is different. Thirty years ago, most furniture was wood, now it is some kind of plastic that releases toxic fumes. Like carbon monoxide and cyanide, it puts off a different kind of smoke. And the smoke and everything else becomes highly flammable.
That’s another big change. After the fire is out, we walk through the house and ask is it safe to breath in here now? Nope! We keep the fans going. We wear our masks much longer than we use to. Things change and to keep up with the changes gets stressful.
We would like to thank Battalion Chief Joel Foster, Battalion Chief Dave Marshall, and Assistant Chief Scott Johnson for taking the time out of their busy schedule to visit with us.
A big thanks to the firefighters, volunteers, and support staff of the Cañon City Area Fire Protection District.
We appreciate everything you do for all of us in the community.
You are true heroes.